For several months, Twin Blades from Press Start Studio reluctantly enjoyed the distinction of being the only Xbox Live game to be pulled from the Windows Phone Marketplace. During its absence, it earned something of a cult status as mobile gamers suddenly realized they were missing out on a hardcore action experience. Now the game is back with green zombie blood instead of the original red. Is Twin Blades’ return cause for celebration? Yes, unless you’re a zombie, in which case, stay out of Sister Angelika’s way.
Slice past the break for our full review.
Twin Blades tells the story of Sister Angelika, a warrior nun. Her village has been overrun by zombies and her ‘best friend,’ a fellow nun, kidnapped by the necromancer who is causing the chaos. Father Richiardo, monastery boss and shopkeeper, places the sole responsibility for stopping the nefarious sorcerer on Angelika’s shoulders. The storyline is surprisingly mature for a downloadable title and the player even gets to make a difficult choice at the end. Be that as it may, Twin Blades is very much a pure action title with story sequences serving as a reward for reaching certain milestones every now and then over the course of the game.
A town in chaos
Twin Blades’ action takes place in a small village and the surrounding wilderness. Angelika starts out inside of the monastery before heading out into nine unique environments spread across the map. She will visit most of these locations multiple times, clearing out zombie infestations as they appear. Every non-boss level works the same way: move from left to right, killing a specific number of zombies before you’re allowed to move on.
Sister Angelika has to different ways to dealing with zombies: her scythe and an assortment of guns. Guns are much safer to use but their ammunition is limited. To refill it, Angelika just needs to slash at zombies with the scythe. It’s a simple and effective system. Angelika can also unlock an aerial attack in which she dives to the ground blade first. It puts the player uncomfortably close to the zombie hoards, but often stuns them too.
The combat in Twin Blades is controlled by a virtual stick and buttons. The two action buttons are for slashing and firing guns. Pressing up on the virtual stick makes Angelika jump. This takes some adjustment from players who are used to jumping with a button. The only time pressing up to jump feels natural to me is in one-on-one fighting games. But any more than two virtual buttons on the right would be harder to keep track of, so it’s an understandable design decision.
Switching between guns is handled by tapping the gun icon at the top-right of the screen. I wish guns could be changed while the game is paused as it can be difficult to switch them on the fly while dealing with the game’s bosses and their zombie minions. Speaking of which, whenever a zombie grabs Angelika, players have to shake the phone violently to free her. This got me some odd looks and comments in public once; there should be an option to turn off the silly shaking.
Nuns love shopping too!
Clearing levels isn’t the only purpose of killing zombies. Zombie hearts are the game’s currency. Bag of hearts in-hand, Angelika can return to the monastery and purchase various upgrades for herself and her guns. It’s fun building up your character’s health and abilities, but you never really feel all that strong due to the ever-increasing power and numbers of the zombie hoard. As for the variety of guns Angelika can wield, the Holy Gun is far and away the best firearm in the game. The others will just collect dust in the player’s arsenal, except for when they are needed in boss fights.
Twin Blades’ bosses are visually impressive and quite challenging. The first, a giant zombie butcher, charges at Angelika while swinging his clever. It can be tough to jump over his strikes due to the hectic nature of the battle and the slightly imprecise nature of jumping with the virtual stick, but he is certainly beatable. The other two boss battles, both sorcerers, play a lot differently as they have color cycling weak points. Each color is vulnerable to a certain gun, giving the non-Holy weapons some use.
Press Start has imbued Twin Blades with an art style that resembles Japanese animation while remaining distinctive. Angelika’s animation is extremely fluid. Zombies are creepy and silly at the same time, often wearing pots on their heads ala Plants vs. Zombies. Twin Blade isn’t as lighthearted as PopCap’s magnum opus, however. Here zombie pots, heads, and torsos go flying as Angelika defeats them, accompanied with spurts of (now) green blood.
The Windows Phone version of Twin Blades features a total of 10 different environments. Each one is extremely detailed, moody, and atmospheric. My favorite is the level that takes place beside a lake with a giant moon staring down. Outdoor environments have both day and night versions, adding a touch of visual variety. Even still, some animation – maybe scared bystanders or woodland creatures – would have livened them up further.
Repetition of the Dead
In addition to the story mode, Twin Blades also has a survival mode that challenges players to make it through 30 zombie-infested levels. Just like the story mode, that means Angelika will be running through each environment several times. Excluding boss fights, the game play never changes – it’s always just running from left to right, alternating between slashing and firing guns until no zombies remain.
That repetition is Twin Blades’ only major problem. No matter how beautiful the environments are, they get old because you see them so often. Each level feels identical to the others, too. They all contain the same enemies: zombies. Tougher zombies only look and act slightly different from weaker ones, so they all run together. At the very least, levels should be more distinctive from each other. Uneven topography would have helped. Instead of entirely flat levels, a few hills and maybe even a mountain path to climb would greatly mix things up without requiring much more work from the programmers and artists.
Twin Blades’ Achievements don’t help it feel any less repetitive. To get them all, players would need to beat Story and Survival on both Normal and Hard difficulties, for a total of four play throughs. Sure, it’s nice to get more playtime out of a game, but four play throughs combined with the lack of variety is a bit excessive. Many games award both the Achievements for Normal and Hard when beating the game on Hard, a far more convenient solution. Still, none of the Achievements here are too difficult, and that’s a good thing. Spend enough time on Twin Blades and you’ll reap its full 200 GamerScore.
Twin Blades may not have a ton of variety, but it’s still a very solid action title. It’s fun to chop and blast away at zombies in short spurts, and the upgrade system may have players putting in longer sessions to improve their arsenals. Twin Blades’ unique story, fantastic art, and haunting atmosphere are easy to love. The price is also right: it’s a lot of game for $2.99. Windows Phone players who missed out on it the first time around shouldn’t hesitate to join in Sister Angelika’s fight.
Twin Blades costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Zombie slayers can grab it here (Zune link) on the Marketplace.